Barbie's Mattel Sues Maker of Bratz Dolls The popular Bratz dolls have been taking the spotlight away from Barbie. But toy-making giant and Barbie parent Mattel says it owns Bratz. The companies are in court, fighting over the exact moment that the designer came up with the idea for Bratz.
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Barbie's Mattel Sues Maker of Bratz Dolls

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Barbie's Mattel Sues Maker of Bratz Dolls

Barbie's Mattel Sues Maker of Bratz Dolls

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And a high stakes trial about dolls has the toy industry riveted. The fight is over Bratz. If you have a daughter you probably know this edgy line of dolls. They're distributed by a company called MGA, but toy-making giant and the parent of Barbie, Mattel, says it owns Bratz. The two companies are in court fighting over the exact moment that Bratz designer Carter Bryant came up with his idea. Nicholas Casey is covering the trial for the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. NICHOLAS CASEY (Wall Street Journal): There are two stories here. There's Carter Bryant's story, which was that he created the doll between stints at Mattel. And then there's Mattel's story, which is that he actually created it when he was working at Mattel.

Now, they have gone to some interesting lengths to prove that. One thing they showed when they were doing their opening statements was that Carter Bryant says that he invented the doll or came up with the idea when he was driving by a high school. And they showed a map of where he was working and where he was going home to and showed where the high school was and tried to say it just wouldn't have been on the pathway when he was going home.

They also subpoenaed the high school yearbook from that school and showed it to the jury and tried to say that, you know, hey, these kids don't really look like Bratz dolls. They say they're going to introduce forensic evidence on the actual pages of the notebook they have, what Carter Bryant says are the original sketches. They brought them to ink analysts that say that these were actually out of a notebook that he made when he was at Mattel.

MONTAGNE: So what is MGA arguing in this case to say that they own this doll?

Mr. CASEY: Well, MGA concedes the fact that Carter Bryant was working at Mattel when he was meeting with MGA and telling them about this doll. What they say, though, is that they also brought the doll to market. They invented exactly how the doll would be manufactured. They were the ones that took the risk and actually took it to the toy aisle. For that reason they say they get the credit.

MONTAGNE: Well, that sounds like a reasonable argument, but not necessarily one that would hold up in terms of who owns the doll.

Mr. CASEY: Well, it's kind of difficult, Renee, because it depends on who sort of invented the idea to begin with and when.

MONTAGNE: So does that mean in intellectual property law that an idea really counts at the instant of creation?

Mr. CASEY: Generally speaking, yes. Yeah. But one of the things here is it's very difficult to prove when someone had that light bulb over their head.

MONTAGNE: How much money is at stake here?

Mr. CASEY: Well, it's hard to say, because MGA is a private company and doesn't actually release figures. It's one of the things the judge is trying to get to the bottom of himself. But some of the estimates have been that Bratz makes about $500 million a year, which is a lot of money.

MONTAGNE: And Mattel, is it saying that Bratz is cutting into its sales of Barbie? And those sales, objectively, have been down 12 percent over this last year.

Mr. CASEY: Those have been down. Several years ago it was a much worse case between Bratz and Barbie, that they were more heavily at war. But one thing that Bratz has done is it's opened the door for a number of other competitors - like the Hannah Montana doll - which have kind of cut into Barbie's share. There's also the case that kids want iPods and consumer electronics right now, which is part of the reason, too, that you saw the big decline here in the U.S.

MONTAGNE: Well, there's one twist in this and that's that the designer, Carter Bryant, has settled with Mattel. What does that mean in terms of this case? Is that good for Mattel theoretically or good for MGA?

Mr. CASEY: Well, one thing that's changed is the mix of people who are in the trial. It used to be the case that it was Mattel, MGA and Carter Bryant. And there was a sympathetic character, being Carter Bryant there, who could look like that he was being picked on by Mattel.

Now that he's gone it's just two corporations that are really trying to battle it out, and that creates a different mix. And certainly the jury, which may have been sympathetic to an artist and a designer who was a central part of trial, certainly that's changed for them.

MONTAGNE: Nicholas Casey is a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, and he's been covering the Mattel-MGA trial over the Bratz doll. Thanks very much.

Mr. CASEY: Thanks, Renee.

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